Thursday 13 July 2006

Through Painted Deserts by: Donald Miller

Through Painted Deserts
AKA Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance
Donald Miller
Nelson Books
ISBN 0785209824

Some books that failed the first time should stay OOP (Out Of Print), and this is definitely one of them. It should have stayed way on the shelves collecting dust.

Back in 2003 Donald Miller published a book called Blue Like Jazz and that book went gangbusters - constantly selling out at bookstores and going through a few printings. It appeared, at the time, that every time you turned around someone was recommending the book. It was a collection of penses, thoughts, and meandering recollections of a man who grew up to doubt religion but could not give up on faith. It was marketed as ‘Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality’. It was so popular it was even turned into a one-man stage show in Toronto, ( and has toured the country.

Then some genius at the publishing company decided to resurrect his first book that had failed. That person is responsible for the unwarranted destruction of thousands and thousands of trees.

This book is a classic road trip journey, in the vein of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Yet unlike that classic book, this one does not live up to all the hype. This book is a shameless money grab by the publisher and the author. This greediness is seen time and time again once an author has a successful endeavor. Everything they have written, or will write, is considered gold. That was not the case with this book. Not only is the publishing of this book shameless marketing and abuse of success, it also has a shameful plug for a band that the author listened to while ‘rewriting’ the book. Miller states: ‘Robbie’s CD Better Days is to me the soundtrack for the revised edition of this book. I am pleased to introduce it to you.’

Miller’s prose is weak, and his reflections are pedantic. He states: “We are one day out, and home seems an ocean away. My watch ticks inside my boot. I don’t need it. I’m not late for anything. There is no disgruntled friend waiting for me at a coffee shop or office.’ Are we are all suppose to be enthralled with the story of two guys traveling from Texas to Oregon? It was a chore to get through the book and I would not even recommend it for fans of Miller’s writings. Another example is “But because we were born as babies and had to be taught to speak and to pee in a toilet, we think all of this is normal. Well, it isn’t normal. Nothing is normal. It is all rather odd, isn’t it, our eyes in our heads, our hands with five fingers, the capacity to understand beauty, to feel love, to feel pain.” Ok so what do we do with Miller’s thoughts? In my opinion, not much!

It was just pretentious to republish this book and milk the readers of Blue Like Jazz for money better spent elsewhere.

(First Published in Imprint 2006-06-16 as 'Hate It' Love It hate It Book Review Column.)

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